Books at bottom of business to spin yarns into gold

The eBay Web site built an empire helping people turn unwanted items into treasure.

Now a Minden-based company is using the Internet to launch a similar idea for readers.

America's Bookshelf aims to clean up the nation's cluttered bookshelves and help out consumers' favorite charities at the same time.

"America needs to have more things that people share among themselves again," says Bill Denkler, the founder with his wife, Deb, of America's Bookshelf.

The Internet business encourages readers to exchange books, levying an annual fee and a charitable donation to prime the lending-library pump.

"It's a sharing experience between members," says Deb Denkler.

Currently, people placing books on the site can add comments about the books they are putting out for adoption. Later, the Denklers plan to add a way for people to comment on the books they've read through the exchange.

The couple's rural locale made the bibliophiles aware of the need for their business.

"In more rural areas, people can't get to the library," says Deb Denkler. "In cities, people have gotten too busy to get to the library. And, due to budget cuts, libraries are closing or reducing hours in so many areas that it's hard for working people to get there and find them open."

The Web, however, makes literature available 24/7 in big cities and small towns alike.

Both owners continue to work their day jobs, Deb as a casino dealer and Bill as a gourmet waiter. Despite their physical jobs, she says, "We are lovers of books. We read up to eight pages in the morning over coffee."

True bibliophiles, they're in this for more than just the money.

How it works: Members join online and pay a $12 annual fee, plus a donation of three books. (The books must have an ISBN number, which precludes anything older than the mid-1970s) to the lending library.

The member pays a $3 service fee for each book ordered. (Book credits are purchased in blocks of five or more). Books are mailed at the low-cost book rate, and come with a padded envelope in which to return the book.

There are no late fees and no due dates, and the book need not be returned at all. It can join the more than 200 books that the average American household stores in its home library.

Each year, at membership renewal time, the member donates three more books. That keeps the stock fresh.

"Our bookshelf is what America is reading," says Denkler. "Not just best sellers. It's what people have at home, the books they submitted for their memberships."

The Web site, which went live in December, was developed by Noble Studios in Carson City.

"They're amazing people to have taken this on," says Deb Denkler.

Bill Denkler had been incubating the idea for about four years. But the company needed a starting inventory. On a vacation trip to Colorado last March, the couple stumbled upon an Internet book sales company that was going out of business. It had nearly 10,000 books to unload. In true Nevada style, they hauled the bounty back in a pick-up truck towing a six-horse stock trailer.

But that was just the beginning of a big job. The identifying ISBN number every book had to be typed into the Web site. Friends and family helped out.

The Denklers have relied on the help of friends in other ways. Teacher friends gave business critiques. A daughter, a marketing major at the University of Nevada, Reno, advises.

Environmental considerations played a part in the company's planning.

Deb Denkler notes that 6,500 new books are published every year in this country, each requiring pulp and pollution from paper mills.

"Every 65 books exchanged between members saves a tree," she says. Her shipping envelopes are nearly 100 percent recycled fiber, and she's looking to find a supplier who uses nothing but recycled materials.

But the Denklers want to do more good with their business. America's Bookshelf donates $1 of every $12 membership to a charity chosen by the member. Plus, each book donated into the exchange yields another 30 cents to the non-profit.

"If a book moves around to 10 different members, it generated $3 to the non-profit," says Deb Denkler.

Members who want to raise yet more money for favorite charities can host a "Heartfelt Book Club."

A member uses the Web site to send out email invites to a book party. Each guest brings 10 books to swap or donate. The host then logs on the Web site, on the honor system, to report how many books were swapped or donated. And each of those books generates 30 cents to a designated charity. The host can even send thank you notes to guests via the Web site.

Shipping costs are the biggest challenge. The Web site had to be tweaked after the U.S. Postal Service raised rates this year, adding an extra 17 cents per book.

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